Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and gays

I'm a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a fascinating and thoughtful German man who was a Christian theologian in the first half of the 20th C. His conclusions and attempts to live Christianity as he thought it must be lived brought him into repeated conflict with the Nazi leadership and he was ultimately imprisoned and finally executed in Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp a month before the end of the war in Europe.

Bonhoeffer said, in The Cost of Discipleship, that Christianity is not easy and that it is a mistake to think so. He differentiated between "cheap grace" and "costly grace." In this, he said:
"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
And this brings me, rather circuitously, to today's rant.

I recently listened to a couple videos of sermons from a "good" preacher in Hedgesville, WV, who pontificated about homosexuality. He actually did two sermons on two successive Sundays. The first talked about how it was not appropriate to act with hate or violence towards gays. I suppose that was a step forward: "no, no, you can consider them accursed of God, but you cain't lynch 'em anymore, Billy Bob!" The second sermon, though, was the same old stuff we always hear from these jackasses: he jumped backwards through flaming hoops of snot to show that that one line in Leviticus about homosexuality was relevant, but all the other stupid rules in Leviticus could be ignored. (This was impressive.) It's clear that he doesn't have much information outside of the box, because if he did, he'd be sharing it with the congregation. The first sermon was not bad for the six inches forward it went; the second sermon was nothing but mental masturbation--"BB-stacking" as my ex-wife used to describe it.

This guy was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I am interested in who attends this church, so I listened to the entirety of both sermons. I've asked him to read things like Mel White's exceptional "Stranger at the Gate," so it's only fair that if he asks me to watch a video, that I do so. And I really was curious to hear where this pastor was going to go with all of this. I wasn't particularly surprised, though I was disappointed, that the same unthinking conclusions are still being bandied about as if they're something new or even valid. I mean... LEVITICUS??? Give to me a fucking break, please!! What kind of idiot selectively points to Leviticus and says "Well, this piece is really true, but the rest of the stuff is just totally silly?" Someone who's willing to dive backwards through flaming hoops of snot to support their own shabby little prejudices as being "God's word" and not their own responsibility, that's who.

But there was value in listening to these two sermons, quite apart from the fact that the pastor (shallow thinker that he might be) has a very good delivery style and is quite nice to listen to if you don't listen too hard. That value was this: I realized that the Westboro Baptist Church is no different from the many other churches that play the "hate the sin but love the sinner" game for homosexuality except in degree... and the WBC may actually be less dangerous than the rest because you can TELL they're lunatics because of the way they're screaming. People who speak softly are often mistaken for people who are not lunatics even when they're spouting pure toxic waste. And that's dangerous because it can get under your skin.

If homosexuality is a "choice" (*cough* bullshit! *cough*), then condemning people for choosing homosexuality is sadly judgmental on the part of the people doing the condemning. It sure isn't a strong sales pitch for a God of Love. But if homosexuality is inborn (as with thousands of other mammals and birds and fish species), then telling people they were basically born accursed of God is just the same as any other form of racism. People are indeed welcome to have any opinion about who they want to hang out with, but when they start inflicting this on children and other people, it should be dealt with like any other form of racism: mocked, reviled, and shunned by decent people.

As Bonhoeffer says, "God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love." It would be good for Christians to remember that. Running around telling people that they're wrong, they're living in sin, they're doing it wrong is just plain stupid if you're trying to demonstrate the brilliance of your theological position. Trying to bludgeon people into converting by doing this is no less stupid. As Bonhoeffer also pointed out, "Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; he waited until one of them turned to him." The world would be a better place if people inclined to proselytize did so by the far more effective method of letting their light shine and not thwacking them with a Bible. Good proselytizing, in fact, great proselytizing, never needs the proselytizer to say a single word to prove the validity of their point of view.

If you're a Christian who grew up without a lot of social understanding about gay people and you have things to deal with, it's perfectly okay to say "I'm not comfortable with this," "I have to grow into accepting this," "I don't like this," or to refuse to hang out with people who are gay, but it is not an act of love for anyone to revile these people because they think their God tells them to. Do what Jesus did: act with love and acceptance of all people as brothers, and say nothing on the subject whatsoever. That's going to be a really hard part for most Christians: you don't get to be judgmental about this if you're a Christian, which is the part that most of the shallow breed here in this country seem to forget.

Moreover, not everyone thinks that being gay and being Christian are incompatible. There's a wonderful book called "What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality" that provides an excellent discussion of the context for the handful of references about homosexuality. The ToC is available on Amazon and one gets a clear idea of what's being discussed and may be able to grow wiser just from that. If you're not familiar with the concepts being discussed in the sample pages, consider buying it. It shows what most of the rest of us already knew: people who quote Leviticus as a "justification" for so-called Christian beliefs about homosexuality are both laughable and ignorant.

If someone thinks that someone else doesn't measure up to their standards of Christianity, then the best way to encourage them to be better is to be a better Christian yourself. Not a smugger Christian, not a more self-righteous Christian, not a holier-than-thou Christian--even one of those in the world is way too many--but a Christian who really shows people what that line about "not hiding your light under a bushel" means. I met one, once, you know. He continues to be an inspiration to me 20-some years later about what Christians might be and aren't.

SIDENOTE: I realize as I write this that this one true Christian is, in small part, indirectly responsible for my general disgust with the rest of the breed because almost all of them that I've met are such woeful failures at it. I knew when and where I'd developed such an intense loathing for Christians: it was working at Raima Corporation in the late 80s. The company was run and staffed by as dysfunctional a bunch of people as I'd ever seen, all of whom claimed loudly to be Christian. The company was formed out of people who attended Mt. Highlands Community Christian Church, some megachurch on the Eastside of Seattle. My first boss, John, was a decent man who I admired for his integrity, but the joke-that-wasn't-a-joke among the staff was that you could always tell who was management (or sucking up to management) because they had the leatherbound KJV Bible on their shelf with the words of Jesus in red. When I signed up there, I'd merely disliked assholes like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Two years of watching how most of these people actually treated themselves and each other was eye-opening and horrifying. However, I'd never figured out until I wrote this that it wasn't merely revulsion at the way 99% of them are willing to eat their own young and each other; it's the revulsion at the shallowness and total lack of spirituality for people claiming a religious label. Sadly, with the exception of this one true Christian I met there, most of them I've met since are just as shallow. Some have integrity and try hard (like my first boss) and I've met some who are sincere, but as the saying goes, "95% of Christians give the other 5% a bad name!" I would really like it to be otherwise, but the feeble bleat of "We're Not All Like That!" rings hollow when I don't see the NALT-sorts trying to do something about the ones they're not supposed to be like.

Don't like gay people? You don't have to hang out with them. But if your children or your brother or your sister or your best friend or even one of your parents says "I'm gay," then if you're a Christian, you'd better be ready to respond with as much love and acceptance as you can, and then go find more in your heart, because that's how that job description reads. Yeah, it may be hard, but nobody who knew what they were talking about ever said that real Christianity was supposed to be easy. And that's probably the most important thing that Bonhoeffer said.

Addendum: I wanted to post the link to the sermon archive church that inspired this journey of self-discovery in writing. They're at Hedgesville Church and the sermon archive is here. (The website is very well designed, btw!) The two sermons in question are still up, but they look like they may roll off soon. If you'd like to listen to them and see if your conclusions match mine, listen quickly.


Nikki said...

Thanks for your blog. I'm reading the new Bonhoeffer book (and struggling with the ordination of gays) so I found your post quite interesting.

But it's not so simple as "not liking gays". I have dear homosexual friends, who I not only like, but love. But do I want a gay pastor?--hmmm. I'm not totally comfortable with it--I realize that it may be more emotional than logical, more cultural than anything else. But I'm still struggling with it. You helped bring clarity. Thanks!

John Hedtke said...

You're very welcome, Nikki. I'm glad I could help a little.

Bonhoeffer was an amazing man, who, if there ever was a true Christian, was it. I think his concepts are far too subtle for most people to grasp. His writing has great depth. It bears considerable reflection... and, come to think of it, that's yet another elaboration on what he was saying: Being a Christian is not easy.

Which new book are you referring to?

Bruce Becker said...

John, thank you for your sane reflections. I, too, admire Bonhoeffer. That is how I found this blog. As well, I knew Mel White and Lyla and Erin and Michael for two years long ago. I was gravely disheartened by his book which you mentioned. His clandestine same-sex explorations belied his contemporaneous personal assertions to me and demolished his integrity. Perhaps you revile those stupid Christian co-workers because they were unpolished and shabby liars, unlike expert prevaricators, who advocate the progressive elitist position. Mr. Spong, for example, will not disclose his devious misinformation during his attempts to foist his progressive agenda upon his congregation in NJ. I spent 19 years in ministry in a major urban ghetto. I have close gay family members. I have visited gay patients dying of AIDS on hospital wards. Twice I have been involved in saving gay men from suicide. Please reserve your ad hominem arguments about Christians. You do not have to agree with people to love them. With regard to your flawed Christians, a nation of cripples does not prove that humans cannot walk nor does it disprove a Man in history who once ran. What is Real? Your answer means everything. Bruce

John Hedtke said...

Bruce, thank you for dropping a note. I actually like a great deal of what Bishop Spong has to say.

The fact that Mel White was trying to figure out his massively-repressed sexuality is no surprise to me. I'd expect the same thing of anyone in similar circumstances. For example, you recall the group, Promisekeepers? The male hookers would follow them around from city to city on their convention circuit, knowing that business was always good when the Promisekeepers were in town. It happens. People are people.

I'm not sure what you're talking about w/r/t "ad hominem attacks on Christians." I'd appreciate it if you'd clarify this. If you're objecting to my personal experiences, they're my personal experiences; refuting them is going to be difficult because they happened. I've met an awful lot of Christians. And, as I related, I even met a real Christian once. He was, and is, impressive and I admire him without reservation. But when I see tens of millions of Christian fascists in this country actively trying to set up a theocracy, I wonder about the whole breed. The actions of the great unwashed are strongly consistent with the actions of many, many Christians that I have met and interacted with personally, too. Sarah Palin, for example, is a Dominionist; 4 of 5 of the major Republican candidates in 2012 were either Dominionists or so like them that you'd need a dogma guide to spot any significant differences. And Romney himself, while a Mormon and not a Rushdoony-style Dominionist, is equally interested in theocracy, albeit an LDS one. And tens of millions of voters thought that these candidates were a good idea! So, yes, if someone says they're a Christian and they're here to do me good, the onus is on them to prove it, and quickly. In the meantime, I'm hanging on to my wallet and looking for the weapons just in case, because trusting them freely could be the last thing I'll do.

If you're a Christian and you want to do people good and do what you can to improve the reputation of this particular group, leave us the fuck alone and don't try to convert us. Help make the world a better place and wait for people to ask you about why your light glows like it does... you know, like Jesus did: he didn't bug the guy on the other cross who DIDN'T ask him. If you want to convince people that your god will help make a good life, let us see what it does in your life before you try and sell your religion to us. It's a much better sales pitch.